African languages in the spotlight

2019-07-17 06:02
The 21st biennial international African Languages Association of Southern Africa’s (Alasa) conference was hosted at the University of the Free State from Monday, 8 July, to Wednesday (10/07). From the left are Dr Nyefolo Malete (conference chairperson and the newly elected deputy chairperson of Alasa), Prof. Inge Koch (scientific editor of Alasa’s journal), Dr Hleze Kunju (secretary of Alasa), Dr Hilde Gunnink (international guest), Prof. Nobuhle Hlongwa (keynote speaker) and Prof. Phalandwa Mulaudzi (former deputy chairperson of Alasa).Photo: Supplied

The 21st biennial international African Languages Association of Southern Africa’s (Alasa) conference was hosted at the University of the Free State from Monday, 8 July, to Wednesday (10/07). From the left are Dr Nyefolo Malete (conference chairperson and the newly elected deputy chairperson of Alasa), Prof. Inge Koch (scientific editor of Alasa’s journal), Dr Hleze Kunju (secretary of Alasa), Dr Hilde Gunnink (international guest), Prof. Nobuhle Hlongwa (keynote speaker) and Prof. Phalandwa Mulaudzi (former deputy chairperson of Alasa).Photo: Supplied

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The importance of African languages, its equality and use at higher education institutions to advance deve­lopment was again put to the fore at the 21st biennial international African Languages Association of Southern Africa (Alasa) conference.

It was hosted by the University of the Free State’s (UFS) Department of African Languages from Monday, 8 July, to Wednesday (10/07) in Bloemfontein.

Discussions were under the theme “Indigenous African languages and Decolonisation: Revitalising African ways of knowing in a digital age”.

The panel consisted of Prof. Nobuhle Hlongwa, Prof. Sabelo Ndlovu-Gatsheni and Prof. Francisco Matshinhe.

The panel addressed the conference on different fundamentals to developing indigenous African languages as transformation tools.

Strong emphasise was made about the equal use of the indigenous African languages and Indigenous Knowledge Systems to achieve transformation and to uproot discrimination and inequality.

Hlongwa addressed this issue in her keynote address, “The role of indigenous African languages in know­ledge production, dissemination and social transformation”.

“Historically, higher education in South Africa and Africa in general relied on foreign languages,” said Hlongwa, dean and head of the School of Arts at the College of Humanities at the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN).

She advocated the revisi­ting of teaching and learning methods where learners are examined in a language they do not understand and where educators teach in a language in which they are not proficient.

“One solution would be to reposition mother-tongue education and implement a policy framework which guides language practice in South Africa,” said Hlongwa.

According to Hlongwa, models for intellectualisation of African indigenous languages can be benchmarked from UKZN and the Rhodes University where major strides have been made to develop terminology, term banks, reading and writing clubs, even as apps.

Prof. Heidi Hudson, dean of the Faculty of Humanities at UFS, echoed the beliefs of Kenyan writer Ngugi wa Thiong’o regarding the entwined nature of language and power.

“Ngugi reminds us the language question cannot be solved outside the larger arena of economics and politics or the question of what society wants,” said Hudson.

“The conference took place at an opportune time, when the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (Unesco) saw it befitting to recognise the rights of indigenous people,” said Prof. Monwabisi Ralarala, chairperson of Alasa.

“Thus declaring 2019 as the International Year of Indigenous Languages,” Ralarala said.

South Africa is a multicultural society, boasting 11 official languages with ten of them indigenous languages.

These native languages remain underdeveloped.

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